WESTMINSTER — What looked at first glance like an easy solution to some of the city's space woes became an impossibility in a matter of hours Monday night.
During a demolition-permit hearing, owners of the 116-year-old Old Stone House offered to give the crumbling Liberty Street structure -- and its 2,200 square feet of space -- to the city.
But there are a couple of catches: the city would have to spend more than $500,000 to relocate and renovate the former home of FarmersSupply Co.
And the City Council isn't particularly interested in the 1875 structure or any other building.
After the three-hour public hearing on the demolition permit, the council once again affirmedits commitment to building a $1.6 million addition to City Hall, shunning the mayor-supported options of leasing or buying existing buildings in the quest to give city employees a little more elbow room. The council still has not voted on whether to take the $1.6 million from cash reserves or finance the project through bonds.
"The councilremains firm in its decision to go ahead with the expansion," Mayor W. Benjamin Brown said of the Aug. 26 decision in which the council voted 3-to-2 to add nearly 10,000 square feet to City Hall.
The council voted to advertise bids for architectural engineering of the expansion. Engineering is expected to cost nearly $130,000.
Brown said even if the council hadn't reaffirmed its commitment to the expansion, the Old Stone House -- the site for 54 years of B's Coffee Shoppe-- would be too costly to turn into office space.
"The cost of dismantling it and moving it would be prohibitive," he said yesterday. "But it doesn't lend itself to office space. We need to turn that building into something that draws people downtown."
But drawing evenone person with enough interest in -- and money to pay for -- the one-acre site has eluded Farmers Supply Co. for the last two years.
That, the trustee of the defunct company insists, is one of the reasons Farmers Supply wants to remove or demolish the historic structure.
"I would love to have the building remain," said Westminster attorney William B. Dulaney, Farmers Supply's trustee. "But we've had it on the market for two years, and both serious offers we've had were looking at the site without the building. It's an option we want to offer potential buyers."
A structural engineering consultant Monday night testified that the building is in bad shape, with walls, joints, the roof and floors in need of extensive repairs that would cost more than $150,000.
Farmers Supply is asking $675,000 for the central business-zoned tract and the six buildings on the site. So far, an offer of $650,000 fell through when the potential purchaser couldn't arrange financing, and an offer of $450,000 was rejected by the company's board of directors.
The demolition request was filed last month with the city and the county. Monday night's public hearing drew more than 40 people and lasted nearly three hours.
The building could end up as part of the city's Historic District and be subject to restrictions on any alterations to its appearance. The building's first owners, the B. F. Shriver Canning Co., used it from 1875 until 1917, when it was sold to Farmers Supply.
While a formal decision on the demolition permit is expected by the end of the month, Mayor Brownsaid yesterday he believes the request will be turned down.
"I think we should want to preserve that building," he said. "It's an important part of Westminster."